A Palace fit for festivity
“With the opening of the new History Museum, some people worried the Palace of the Governors would be lost in its shadow,” Kate Nelson, marketing manager for the Palace and the museum, told Pasatiempo in early December.
There’s no risk of that happening on Friday, Dec. 11, when Christmas at the Palace rings in the holiday in traditional fashion while the younger sister institution sleeps the night away. “This event lets the Palace shine alone and show off its role as a witness to 400 holiday seasons,” Nelson said.
This year marks the Palace’s 25th season of celebrating Christmas in a public way. Refreshments, live music, and other entertainment are planned, including the highly anticipated arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Claus, decked out in their signature red and white attire and black boots. Whether they will land on the roof and slip down the chimney or sashay through the front door is anybody’s guess.
Among the special events is a celebration of the reopening of the newly refurbished Press of the Palace of the Governors — more commonly known as the Palace Print Shop and Bindery. This tourist destination, which attracts up to 70,000 people annually, not counting school groups, was shut down for renovation last year during the Christmas season. “It was quite discouraging ... not to be able to participate,” said Thomas Leech, curator of the Palace Press. “I felt like Santa left a lump of coal in my stocking!”
But Leech believes the temporary closure of the press was worth the wait. “Two-thirds of the facility has been totally reconditioned, including the windows, flooring, and walls,” he said by telephone. “The remainder of the floor space has been redesigned to accommodate a reconstruction of artist Gustave Baumann’s studio and workshop as well as a separate exhibit acknowledging the Estancia News-Herald and the J.A. Constant family, who founded and managed the News-Herald from 1912 to 1947.” The Constant family donated their original press equipment to the Palace in 1970, and that was the motivation to establish the Palace Press in 1972.
Holiday festivities will include a chance for visitors to print personalized Christmas cards and, assisted by members of the Santa Fe Book Arts Group, construct their own printer’s caps. The caps are made from a variety of newsprint. “I’ve been experimenting with various local papers,” Leech said. “ Pasatiempo makes a rather smallish hat for adults, but it’s good for kids. Truth be told, the Santa Fe Reporter works slightly better for adults.” Leech was still deciding a specific design for this year’s Christmas card when Pasatiempo spoke with him, but he was considering a pertinent quote from Charles Dickens. Anyone who loves the pungent smell of printer’s ink and the sound of vintage presses churning away won’t want to miss the Palace press in the inner courtyard.
Also new this year is the display of The Nativity, an early 18th-century oil on canvas painting by Mexican-born artist Juan Correa the Elder (circa 1645-1716) that is part of the Palace’s permanent collection. Due to its fragile condition, the work is rarely exhibited. “The Nativity was one of several canvases that once formed an altar screen dedicated to the Virgin Mary that was probably 25 to 30 feet high and 20 feet wide,” said Josef Diaz, curator of Southwestern and Mexican collections at the Palace. The Nativity itself measures 68 by 59 inches.
The painting depicts the holy family and showcases the birth of the Christ child, positioned prominently within the composition on a white cloth atop a bed of straw. The child is attended to by Mary, and standing opposite her are Joseph and three other male figures. Correa has dispensed with any animals among the ensemble cast. The single source of light seems to be the child, while hovering above and looking down on the group are two angels holding a banner that reads “Glory to God in the Highest” in Latin.
Correa’s painting was once part of a private collection belonging to New Mexico residents Charles and Nina Collier. The couple collected pieces of art during their sojourns to South America and Mexico, Diaz said. “In 1958, [the Colliers] founded the International Institute of Iberian Colonial Art to preserve their growing collection, which was later donated to the Palace of the Governors.” Consequently, Diaz believes
the Palace possesses one of the truly exceptional collections of New World colonial paintings. “The collection consists of 70 paintings and three bultos from 17th-and 18th-century Mexico and South America, with such artists as Correa and José de Páez from Mexico, and Diego Tito, the Incan painter from Peru,” he said.
Diaz’s research on Correa revealed that he was the child of a prominent mulatto physician from Cádiz and a free black woman from Mexico City. Seen as a master of the Spanish Baroque style of painting — given to rich, dark color schemes and dramatic use of chiaroscuro with combined elements of European mannerism and Mexican naturalism — Correa was commissioned for numerous paintings throughout the Spanish colonies, including for Mexico City’s metropolitan cathedral. In addition, the artist maintained a studio and workshop in Mexico City, where he served as mentor to other artists, with Juan Rodriguez Juarez and José de Ibarra believed to have been among them. Other paintings by Correa may be seen in the chapel of the Rosary in the convent of Azcapotzalco in Mexico City and the Durango Cathedral in Durango. His work also adorns the church of St. Nicolas in Seville, Spain, while some speculate that Guadalupana, a 1712 painting that hangs in the lobby of St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California, was the last painting he finished.
Diaz said The Nativity is a work by “one of the great masters of Baroque painting in New Spain. The piece is a skillful religious painting with theatrical lighting giving the sacred figures a mystical presence. It is a touching religious statement that is simple in conception yet so loaded with significance and spiritual intensity that it becomes iconic.”
Performances at this year’s Christmas at the Palace include drumming on the portal by Lawrence Toya at 4:45 p.m., a quartet of musicians (Erick Illick, Sarah Rogowsey, Pecos Singer, and vocalist Maya Rose Tweten) affiliated with the Santa Fe Concert Association’s EPIK program for young musicians at 5:30 p.m., flamenco guitar by Chuscales at 5:30 p.m., and sacred choral music from Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe at 6:30 p.m. “Listen to the performers with your eyes closed,” Nelson said, “and it’s like you’ve gone back in time to how Christmas was celebrated way back when.”
Juan Correa the Elder: The Nativity (early 18th century), oil on canvas, 68 x 59 inches